“The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.”
“If people don’t occasionally walk away from you shaking their heads, you’re doing something wrong.”
In this world, there are two types of people—among myriads— who have always been on the fringe of society: Geniuses and Fishermen. These two may, at first blush, appear totally unrelated, but they share more in common than you might think.
Of geniuses, Jonathan Swift said, “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.” Likewise, the renowned fly-fishing writer John Gierach wrote: “I think I fish, in part, because it’s an anti-social, bohemian business that, when gone about properly, puts you forever outside the mainstream culture without actually landing you in an institution.” For whatever reason, society just does not understand or accept geniuses or fishermen. They definitely share this in common.
The mainstream places great weight upon a person’s looks, strength or athletic ability. When I was a chubby kid, I was not very good at a lot of things. I tried baseball, soccer, football, and basketball, but I did not excel in any of those sports. I did not learn to ride a bike until I was eight years old. So I was behind the curve in that area too. In middle and high school, I skateboarded and did okay, but it never came easy to me. I worked extremely hard to learn every trick I ever pulled off.
Notwithstanding my shortcomings in athletic areas, I loved to read, draw and sing, and, from a very young age, I had an active imagination. Starting at the age of five, the original Star Wars movies sparked my creative mind and lead to thousands of imaginary adventures with action figures. Likewise, J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit, started me on a love affair with books. Albert Einstein stated: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I was anything but stupid. I just had to find something—that one thing—that I was good at and that made sense to me.
Fortunately, I had an outdoor-loving father who regularly took me hunting and fishing. When I was young, we fished for trout, perch, bass and catfish throughout Utah and Idaho. For whatever reason, fishing just clicked with me. I learned to cast a rod with ease and—while watching the rod tip bounce at the nibble of a fish—I learned to set the hook at the right time. The electrifying thrill of a live fish at the end of the line excited me to the core and I could never get enough. Neither could my Dad so I had lots of opportunities to learn, thrive and excel in this great sport. Like my father, I developed early on a love of the outdoors.
One of my favorite memories as a child was a week my family spent in a house boat on Lake Powell when I was in the 8th Grade. I recall that this was a particularly hard time during my childhood because I felt I did not fit in with my middle-school peers. Kids can be so cruel to those who do not fall within society’s mold.
Tethered to our house boat that week was Dad’s little bass boat, which we drove all over Lake Powell to shallow coves filled with big crappie and bass. I remember vividly casting to schools of plate-sized crappie, watching them chase my rubber jig, and catching them as quickly as I could unhook them and re-cast my lure.
After getting bored with the sure thing, I went and cast into the deeper channel of the lake with that same white rubber jig and felt the hard tug of something entirely different than a crappie. This big fish fought much harder and, when brought to hand, I noticed it was a nice striped bass—a first for me. As a kid, the mystery, the excitement, and the possibilities with fishing seemed limitless. I had found that one thing in my life, the one thing I was truly good at and that made sense to me. That week, my world was at peace.
My family moved to North Carolina not long after that trip and I lost touch with the outdoors and fishing for a time. But I never forgot how much I loved fishing.
I did not learn to fly fish until later on in life, the first year of my marriage to be precise. My wife’s father, Doug Empey, taught me on the Henry’s Fork one summer evening, where I caught my first trout on the fly during a caddis hatch. Once again, I was captivated by fishing and all that it offered. Over the next few years, fly fishing did not come easy to me, but I persevered until it became second nature.
My addiction to fly fishing firmly took hold just before I entered law school. For me, the incessant draw of fly fishing and all that it entailed was a stark contrast to the negative environment in law school that I had just entered. On the one hand was excitement, beauty, solitude, purity and peace, and on the other was manmade commotion, contention, corruption, and litigiousness. After all, the law was created to regulate man’s tendency to harm or take advantage of his neighbor. I recognized this fact within the first week of law school and for the rest of the year, I continually wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into.
During law school, the desire to fish became more powerful than ever before in my life. I escaped as often as I could to the hills and rivers for sanctuary. I succinctly recognized that my fishing was, as Robert Travers put it, “an act of small rebellion” against our modern world. Indeed, I felt on the outskirts of society, but that was just fine with me. I was able to find some much-needed peace and keep my sanity through an extremely stressful time of life. Fourteen years later, with a successful, but stressful, law practice, I still have found no cure to the addiction of fly fishing, and—to be honest—I don’t want to.
The other day I had the opportunity to go fishing with my lifetime friend, Matt Lucia, who coincidentally was with my family that week years ago on Lake Powell. We took our float tubes to a small reservoir not too far from Preston, Idaho and cast wooly buggers for bass, crappie, and blue gill. The fishing was easy and the hook-ups were regular. This was no brain-busting, problem solving fishing; this was just fun. I giggled like a little kid as the scrappy fish continually bent my rod. After all these years, the thrill is still there. I could not help but reflect on that week in Spring my family spent on Lake Powell when I was a kid.
During this outing it struck me that there is an undeniable, strong connection between genius and fishing. Despite what society thinks, fishermen are geniuses. Does that sound like a stretch? Charles Baudelaire wrote that: “Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recaptured at will.” If that is the case, then every time I pick up a fly rod, it is an act of genius.
Author - Andrew M. Wayment (“Andy”) is an attorney by profession and an outdoorsman by passion. Andy has written for the Upland Equations Blog since 2008 and has published numerous articles on upland bird hunting in various magazines, including The Pointing Dog Journal and The Upland Almanac. Also, check out Andy’s first book, Heaven On Earth: Stories of Fly Fishing, Fun & Faith. When Andy is not at work or writing, you will probably find him wading in a river flicking a fly or in the field toting a shotgun and following his three bird dogs.